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Matty’s Mid-Monday Mailbag: The root of the Lions’ early success and what to do with KB?

September 21, 2009

Every Monday, I’ll take a minute to respond to you — Lions’ Nation — answering questions and offering my predictions and insight surrounding the team’s 2009 campaign. Here’s this week’s installment of Matty’s Monday Morning Mailbag.

With a decisive win over FDU-Florham, the Lions early success continues heading into the team’s next test, Saturday against Morrisville State College. Apart from settling a score rooted in last year’s peevish loss, the win demonstrates that the various successes the team’s enjoyed since Week One weren’t an underdog’s verification of the “any given Saturday” adage so prominent in the collegiate game.

But your e-mails indicate that you’re still wondering what–really–has already happened, and what does it mean moving forward.

Well, I’ll tell you.

  • Sure the team’s taken the “W” in its first two tries, but we’re not talking about ‘Cortlands’ or ‘Rowans.’ How confident should we be moving forward in the season?

Frankly, it doesn’t matter how confident we are–it’s how the team feels about its performances thus far, and what it’s capable of in weeks to come. If you’ve bumped into any of the players–around the facility or out and about the college’s gorgeous campus–they’re feeling pretty good right about now.

And they have good reason to.

First things first. You alluded to assumptions entering the game, that any result other than a (healthy) win would have been inadequate, if not raising stark concerns about the team’s potential once it’s submerged into the “beef penciled in on the schedule. Well…they did win the games that they were supposed to. Right?

Consider that step one.

All too often in football teams fall victim to the ever-dreaded trap game, an inexplicable underachievment that can trash an entire season–especially in the collegiate game (see what it’s done to Pete Carrol?). Even with a playoff system (implemented in D3), post-season tournament bids are often difficult to come by, and it just as often requires a conference championship to guarantee yourself an extended season. Drop a “gimme” this early, and you’re as good as Texas toast in a Cowboys’ fan’s Monday morning comfort meal.

Right now the team’s building itself a foundation–one entirely absent for the entirety of its 2008 flop. For a program trekking heftily toward another conference title–a journey starting from the bottom of the barrel–these successes were crucial accomplishments on their bulleted list to greatness, and an etching on the side of the NJAC trophy. Minimalist thinking doesn’t quite apply here. So don’t.

  • Isn’t the fact that the Lions’ roster isn’t the biggest going to hurt them down the road?

Valid point, but not necessarily.

It’s no secret, the Lions athletes aren’t the biggest of the bunch–not by a longshot. I threw the stat about the O-line’s average specs a few days ago (mean height and weight for starters is 6’2, 165 lbs) and the rest of the team about follows suit. The team isn’t chock-full of emaciated anemics, it’s just not quite the cast of American Gladiator.

Sorry, Meyer.

Case in point, they’re not trouncing teams on the scoreboard thanks to the absent-minded play of tactless brutes–they’re just executing. Believe it or not, that’s an advantage.

When every player on a given side of the ball conditions himself to take care of business on each and every opportunity, good things happen (i.e. number-one conference ranking in every offensive team statistical category, and a tie for first in turnover margin, +2). Its fine and good for a team to thrive solely by banking on muscle in the absence of skill–for a while. But what happens when the scales aren’t lopsided, or they are–but they’re just in favor of your opponent?

You know what you are. And it rhymes with Mountain Dew-ed.

The fact that the team’s so committed to attention to detail and excelling on the game’s most rudimentary levels enhances the value of its first two wins. Believe it or not, playing fundamental football can often compensate for a deficiency in size–especially when there’s such an abundance of athleticism at your disposal.

Remember what I said about spread offenses?

  • Is there anything else that’s leading to these victories that we haven’t thought of?

Sure. And the ones that deserve some of the credit for these outcomes aren’t usually the ones that get it. Except, of course, when they’re to blame–for losses.

There’s no substitute for a coaching staff with such a wealth of knowledge roaming your team’s sidelines. But when they’re so adept to identifying and remedying the problems inevitably encountered throughout the course of a football game, you’re set.

This all-encompassing and unabridged team success only suggests that the men with the headsets are contributing just as much as the ones with the helmets and pads.

Offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta hasn’t necessarily had to thus far, but D.C. Matt Hamilton has demonstrated he’s capable of implementing necessary halftime adjustments on the fly. I suppose this is an appropriate time to note the pristine gameplans that the two devised entering both games. But when plans go awry—like they so often tend to—the collectiveness and wherewithal to tinker with your pieces is crucial to coming out on top of what is, at its essence, a chess match.

As the team’s momentum that’s been building with each passing week finally carries it into a hostile environment–like one versus the Profs of Rowan or Cortland’s Red Dragons–faith in your coaches’ philosophy and abilities is one of the hinges upon which victory can swing. The players are buying what these guys are selling. And whether or not you believe it,  that’s a rarity on this level of competitive sports.

  • Kevin Brown definitely played well, but where does he fit into the mix? Doesn’t the team already have a bunch of RBs?

It hasn’t quite posed a problem thus far, but there’s one role that Acosta isn’t quite sure he’s filled. One in which Kevin Brown fits perfectly.

The goal line.

Aside from a lone turnover on downs, the Lions are a perfect seven-of-seven from within the red zone (T-2nd in NJAC). And they’ve enjoyed much of that success pounding the rock with the team’s multitude of diverse tailbacks (all five TDs rushing, two FGs). There’s not necessarily a deficiency here, but complacency is the silent-killer of so many programs that are perfectly content with dancing to the music of early success. That’s just not how head coach Eric Hamilton functions.

If it did, do you really think he’d still be here after 32 years? Come on. The turnover rate for coaches in college rivals that of teenage girls working at Abercrombie.

If Brown enters the game in goal-line situations, it provides Acosta with a number of options. Should he feel comfy with a traditional jumbo-I set, he can stick Misura at fullback and Brown at tailback–or vice versa. Both have the hands and first-step quickness to attack the flats on play-action if lined up at fullback, and they both generate the power to plow through the jumble of offensive and defensive linemen that obstruct the point of attack–especially when the mess is inside the five yard-line.

Should he stick with the spread, he can surround quarterback Chris James with Brown along with one of the lighter bodies–either Mike Yetka or Justin Donoloski (who, for the record, ranks 2nd in the conference in rushing).

And who knows? Maybe Brown can run-block too, jacking up the possibilities from “kind of a lot” to “seemingly endless.”

Though its not always as applicable, goal-line and short-yardage situations are often addressed similarly, particularly on third and fourth-downs. The team’s performance on these crucial downs–often one of many linchpins in the drama of an individual game–aren’t glaring red flags (4th in NJAC on 3rd down–42.1%; T-2nd on 4th down–66.7%) they’re not perfect, and can therefore be improved.


That’s it for this week’s edition of 4M.

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